Month: March 2020

Meet the Team: Lauren McKenzie

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During this time of isolation and social distancing we find ourselves in, relying on digital technology to communicate has never been more important, and we wanted to help curb any loneliness and boredom by branching out with a new series of blogs about our staff. Our team were presented with ten questions to answer to help you to get to know them better. Next time you visit our Museum in Alloway, perhaps you’ll remember the name and the face of one of our staff members, helping you feel more connected to our property.

So without further ado, let us introduce to you…

Lauren McKenzie in front of the Burns Cottage during her first week as Events Manager.

1. Name

  • Lauren McKenzie

2. How long have you worked at RBBM?

  • 6 months (Started in September 2019)

3. What is your position at RBBM?

  • Events Manager

4. What is your favourite thing about working (or best memory) at RBBM?

  • My favourite memory so far has been delivering the Burns programme in January. The team put in an immense effort to pull together all of the elements for the weekend and it was a very proud moment for me to see the success of this. I, of course, have to mention the incredible team of staff and volunteers that work at RBBM that make everything so enjoyable and easy!!

5. What is your favourite fact, song and/or poem by Robert Burns?

  • My favourite Burns song is ‘My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose’.
Listen to Eddi Reader’s version of ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’

6. What is your favourite Scots word?

  • It has to be ‘braw’. Braw means beautiful, pretty, attractive… you could call a lassie braw or you could say “it’s a braw day the day”.

7. Do you have any special skills/hobbies/talents?

  • I have played in a brass band for over 12 years and somehow manage to find the time to compete on regional and national levels in between events at the museum!

8. What is your dream vision/project?

  • My dream is to visit every continent in the world – only South America and Australia to go!!

9. Who is your idol and why?

  • I am going to cheat a wee bit and have two – both my grannies! Although, I am biased, they are just the BEST in the world and have taught me everything I know.
  • If it was to be someone famous, it has to be the Spice Girls (again, cheating because there is five of them!) I have loved them since a really young age – GIRL POWER!
Spice up your life!

10. Where is your favourite place in the world and why?

  • I have travelled to a few places but there is nothing quite like being home in Ayrshire – it’s fair braw.

Fragments

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Two memorialising students from the University of Glasgow Scottish Literature department visited the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum recently to do research and blog-writing as part of their course. The following blog was researched and written by Struan McCorrisken.

Two objects in particular represent a curious facet of the cult of Burns, that is the accumulation and preservation of any and all tangible aspects of the Bards’ life. A fragment, no more than the size of a matchbox, of Jean Armour and Robert Burns’ marital bed, is encased in a large wooden discus and visible beneath a glass plate. The other is a small board containing two strips of material roughly large enough to make a small sock out of. The black silk is merely silk; and the piece of wood, just wood. What truly matters is the association these objects possess; an aspect so powerful it has driven them to be curated and displayed despite being only tiny fragments of the original whole.

Fragment of wood from Robert Burns and Jean Burns’s bed frame. This object is displayed at the National Trust for Scotland’s Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.
Fragment of black silk from Jean Burns’s wedding dress. Displayed at the National Trust for Scotland’s Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

This sort of collecting exemplifies precisely why these objects are valuable. Not the objects themselves, but the connection to the past they offer, the prospect of tangibility that they represent. The type of collecting and commemoration that Burns undergoes is similar almost to that of a medieval saint. This sort of fervent reverence began very soon after Burns’ death, and we may well consider it a sign that Calvinist Scotland, devoid of pomp and pageantry through the stifling presence of the Kirk and the absence of the king, was looking for something to fill the gap. This perhaps was a search for joyful veneration of a figure beyond the austere auspices of the Kirk. Burns’ own rebellious stance against much of the Kirk’s posturing may have added to that attraction. While the comparison of Burns to a saint may sound fanciful, but it’s worth considering how saints are venerated. They are commemorated with talismans, awards and honours are given in their names, statues are erected at places they had a connection to, and they have specific symbols and icons associated with them. Some have specific days they are venerated on, or specific shrines dedicated to them. We certainly manufacture talismans of Burns, as any glance around a Scottish gift shop reveals. There are awards in his name, such as the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award, and a multitude of organisations associated with him. Scotland is replete with statues and plaques of Burns, miniature shrines almost, at places associated with his life and the lives of those associated with him. Images such as the mouse, the plough and the rose are associated with Burns, arguably his very own attributes. He certainly has his own day, and the proposed desire for ritual in the Scots certainly comes to the fore here, reinforced heartily by Walter Scott’s own contributions to images of Scottish culture (tartan, kilts etc). We eat food associated with Burns and toast his “immortal memory”. Items from his life, however fragmentary, are collected and displayed in museums. A new form of reliquary perhaps?

Indeed, it may be postulated that Burns is a new form of saint for a modern, more secular, Scotland. A person of great achievement whom we admire, commemorate, and attempt to emulate. A part of this commemoration is undoubtedly the use of objects, in any condition, to help us connect with the man, long since passed.